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CS Spotlight: John Pearce on Why Universal K-5 CS Education Must Take Priority

September 8, 2021
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John Pearce’s story exemplifies the power of grassroots action — he created the first Family Code Night as a volunteer at his son’s elementary school in Mill Valley, CA, and soon took it to every school in the county. Out of Family Code Night evolved CS is Elementary — a non-profit to help fill the void for national K-5 computer science programs, family engagement, and grassroots action. 

CS is Elementary will host the CSK5 National Summit, the first national summit for K-5 CS education, on September 22. Keep reading to discover why universal K-5 CS education is so important, and how John is working to bring it to all classrooms, schools, and children nationwide.

Can you tell us about the CSK5 National Summit and its goals? 

The CSK5 National Summit is a special one-hour online event on September 22 to help accelerate K-5 computer science programs at any elementary school in California. All California K-5 principals, superintendents, and computer science educators and advocates are invited to attend, where they can learn about specific K-5 programs and resources. There will be a special California Breakout session presented by CSforCA Co-Director Julie Flapan and Emily Thomforde, CS Program Advisor for California County Boards of Education, along with innovative California CS educators. Plus, there will be Keynote Presentations where you can learn about free national resources and programs from the top national organizations in computer science education, including Code.org, CSforAll, and CS is Elementary (formerly Family Code Night). It’s a short high-impact Summit that will inspire and enable both immediate and longer-term computer science programs in any school or district. Register here, and view the full CSK5 event announcement here.

Why is a summit focused on K-5 computer science education so important, and what are other ways you’re working to increase K-5 CS literacy?

CSK5 is the first national summit for K-5 computer science education. It is based upon an emerging reality in the computer science education movement: if children do not acquire CS literacy in the K-5 years, the vast majority never will. In short, there is no CSforAll, equal opportunity, or equity without universal K-5 CS education. 

This focus on K-5 CS literacy for all children is also inspired by new programs and resources that bring CS programs within the reach and capability of every school. One example is National Family Code Nights. The COVID-19 crisis instantly stopped in-school events, inspiring a pivot to livestream and distance learning models by all educators. National Family Code Nights was an example, through which some 700 Nights were conducted for schools nationwide for as many as 6,000 children and parents at a time. This one-minute celebration video tells the story. Now, National Family Code Nights has grown into a year-round program of four family learning events for any elementary school for free. These are Classic Coding, Cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence, and Creative Computing, tailored to K-5 children and families. Livestream Nights are offered quarterly for any school, with live prize drawings and expert presenters in each field. In short, every K-5 school should teach CS, and every school can. 

How did CS is Elementary evolve from Family Code Night?

The mission grew beyond simply encouraging and enabling a fun family learning event—steadily shifting to mobilizing parents and educators at the grassroots level of each school to inspire, support, and enable computer science education for all children, at all schools, as a fundamental social justice and equal opportunity imperative. CS is Elementary is the result of this evolution, and is both a movement and a program for CS for all children. It includes year-round Family Code Nights for any K-5 school or family; recognition for the goals of any school that teaches computer science (on state and district maps and leaderboards of every school and district in the country); and Kode5 distance learning courses that help classroom teachers without coding or computer science experience bring CS learning to their classrooms and schools.

Going back to the beginning, how did you get involved in computer science and coding?

I got involved innocently enough! I created the first Family Code Night as a volunteer in my son’s elementary school in Mill Valley, CA. Turnout was huge, everyone loved it, we took it to every school in our county, were covered on the front page of the Sunday New York Times, invited to the White House to present at the CSforAll Summit, and created a non-profit to help fill the void for national K-5 computer science programs, family engagement, and grassroots action. With support from Infosys Foundation USA, we have built that non-profit into a national platform and ecosystem, featuring a national, state, and district schools recognition map, database of all schools, year-round family engagement program, and provider of 20+ hours per grade of Kode5 courses — all free to any school and district in the country. CSisElementary is independent, non-aligned with any curriculum or service provider, yet supportive of all.

Who else is involved in CS is Elementary, and what do their roles involve?

CS is Elementary works with state partners that share our mission and have statewide reach to all elementary schools and educators in their state. Partners include CSforCA, CodeVA, PaTTAN in Pennsylvania, We_Teach-CS at UT Austin in Texas, and state education departments and non-profits in multiple states. The goal is to empower states, districts, and schools with events, data, marketing, awareness building, courses, and positive recognition for all K-5 schools that teach computer science. 

The CS5K National Summit is happening virtually on September 22, 2021. Register here.

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